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Political Science
Climate Scientist: IPCC Report Sullied by Politics

Professor Robert N. Stavins teaches environmental economics at Harvard University, and is one of the scientists responsible for crafting the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His focus was on the International Cooperation chapter, one of the trickiest facets of climate change, and he recently published a letter he wrote to some of the IPCC higher-ups criticizing the process by which the IPCC translated its 2,000+ page report into a much more manageable, 33-page Summary for Policymakers (SPM).

To condense that amount of information, a lot of details inevitably had to be glossed over, but the process was needlessly politicized, Stavins argues. Government representatives were tasked with unanimously approving the text, and the science was mangled for the sake of strategic political interests. Here are some of the juicier excerpts from his letter:

The general motivations for government revisions – from most (but not all) participating delegations – appeared to be quite clear in the plenary sessions. These motivations were made explicit in the “contact groups,” which met behind closed doors in small groups with the lead authors on particularly challenging sections of the SPM. In these contact groups, government representatives worked to suppress text that might jeopardize their negotiating stances in international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

I fully understand that the government representatives were seeking to meet their own responsibilities toward their respective governments by upholding their countries’ interests, but in some cases this turned out to be problematic for the scientific integrity of the IPCC Summary for Policymakers. […]

[I]n the case of the IPCC’s review of research findings on international cooperation, there may be an inescapable conflict between scientific integrity and political credibility.  If the IPCC is to continue to survey scholarship on international cooperation in future assessment reports, it should not put country representatives in the uncomfortable and fundamentally untenable position of reviewing text in order to give it their unanimous approval.

This goes to show just how difficult the Global Climate Treaty (GCT) task really is. The responsibilities for climate change are as vague and unevenly distributed as the impending dangers we’re told we face. Understanding our climate—maybe the most complicated system we have available for study—is a tall order in itself. Translating that understanding into an international strategy, encompassing the provincial interests of every national government, is nearly impossible.

Stavins’ frustration is understandable, but as he says, on the issue of climate change, there looks to be an “inescapable conflict” between the underlying science and the self-interested political motivations governments bring to the table. If we’re to address the risks of climate change, it looks like we’re much better off taking steps at the national level. Pursuing a GCT is a waste of time, energy, and social capital.

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  • Andrew Allison

    The IPCC report is sullied by its studious avoidance of the inconveniant truth that, accelerating anthropogenic emissions notwithstanding, smoothed average global warming came to a sudden halt in 1997.

  • stanbrown

    As Freeman Dyson and other well-regarded scientists have noted, we don’t understand the climate system at all. Which means that we don’t have a clue whether there are any risks. At all. Certainly, no one has shown that the climate has done anything unusual in the last half century.

    As bad as it is that we don’t have any understanding, it’s even worse that the science establishment has no process of quality control for its work. None. Because there isn’t any grant money available for replication, no one ever checks anyone else’s work. As Amgen and Bayer showed us, the vast majority of science studies are junk. In areas that are politically charged, the results are even worse. Read the Climategate emails.

    Given the lack of understanding and the lack of quality, why would any intelligent person accept Chicken Little climate warnings from financially interested parties with a track record of corruption? Whatever happened to scholars with the intelligence to ask basic questions?


    • Breif2

      “we don’t understand the climate system at all”

      “It’s clouds’ illusions I recall,
      I really don’t know clouds at all.”


      • DiogenesDespairs

        Well put.

        However, there are a few crucial, verifiable facts – with citations below – that can be understood.

        The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

        Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade or 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be about 0.6 degrees Centigrade.

        But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we should presume we are, given a 10,000 year trend – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

        Yet even that trend-continuation needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

        The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

        The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that Anthropomorphic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

        [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

        by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “”

        [2] ibid.

        [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “” See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

        [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “”

        [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

        [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “” The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

        [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory

        [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully

        [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “” This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

        [10] Ibid.

        [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “,_data,_models,_1996-2009”,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

        See also HYPERLINK “” and

        HYPERLINK “” and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “” Et al.


        What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which has been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

        Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

        In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

        I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

    • Corlyss

      The problem has rarely been with the more cautious scientific part of the report. The problem is with the very concept of producing a “Summary for Policymakers” and media which is consciously and very deliberately exaggerated and sensationalized to stampede Progressives and a scientifically ignorant public whose opinion of Science is that it is THE sole remaining institution in America worthy of absolute trust. The public’s scientific ignorance, combined with what is no doubt the increasingly politicisized science instruction in public schools (because Progressives have long since captured both schools and education policy), produces an electorate incapable of health skepticism vis the hysterical sensationalized “lying for social justice.” If more blanced reporting, including occasional mention of the original rationale for the IPCC’s creation, I.e., supplying a justification for the UN’s fatuous demands for massive transfer payments by the West to the massively envious third world nations, generally former colonies that have made the U.N. their principal organ for extortion of money for dictator and despots who now run those cesspools.

      • Jim__L

        “The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of
        your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all
        costs. There’s not one of them which won’t make us into devils if we set
        it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in
        general was safe, but it isn’t. If you leave out justice you’ll find
        yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials “for the sake
        of humanity” and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.”

        CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

  • Rick Johnson

    Stavins makes clear what many of us have known for some time. The IPCC is a POLITICAL body, not a scientific body. Its mission is to achieve political outcomes, not to advance our scientific understanding of the earth’s climate.

    Further, as an sophisticated understanding of politics shows, the IPCC’s political agenda is Green.

    • Corlyss

      Everything the U.N. does is political. It can’t be anything else!

  • Jim__L

    From the “uncorrupted” version, before the politicos got to it…

    “Regional initiatives – those between the national and global scales ‐ focused on mitigation are either being developed or implemented in many areas. Their impact on global mitigation has been limited to date.
    (medium confidence) ” [and no evidence… JL]

    “Many climate policies could be more environmentally and economically effective if implemented across broad geographical regions because of the co-location of infrastructures and trade advantages. Only in areas of deep integration (e.g., in the European Union) have such initiatives had an identifiable impact on mitigation through binding policies that include regulation and market ‐ based mechanisms.”

    Wow. Where to begin?

    These guys just can’t imagine that anything other than totalitarian governmental action can do anything. They ignore the fact that fracking has made America “greener”, faster, than anything the Europeans have done. They dismiss regionalism as “ineffective”, when it’s the only thing that IS effective.

    The fact that this was cut down to a single page was an improvement… it wastes less of everyone’s time that way.

  • Anthony

    Just viewed panel discussion on climate change. Most important takeaway: no disagreement among scientists but loud disputation from the political side.

  • Boritz

    “inescapable conflict between scientific integrity and political credibility.”

    Modest proposal: “Scientists” should focus predominantly on the “scientific”. Liars, bluffers, tramps and philosophers should deal with the “political”.

  • Tom Servo

    “Global Warming” is the new Hellfire and Brimstone religion for people who think they’re too smart to fall for a Hellfire and Brimstone religion.


    it’s the same old game as always.

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